First things first: Life-size dinosaurs may be walking at the St. Pete Times Forum this week, but the real ones never stepped foot in the area. They didn't even come close. By the time Florida emerged from watery depths, dinosaurs had been extinct for millions of years. Still, that fact hasn't stopped locals from embracing the cold-blooded creatures. Dinosaur statues, fossil groups and a dino theme park prove that prehistoric creatures are alive and well, at least in people's minds. So if your child skips out of Walking with Dinosaurs roaring dino-mite, here are a few places and activities you'll want to check out. — Susan Thurston firstname.lastname@example.org
Recyclosaurus at MOSI
Nicknamed the largest hood ornament in North Tampa, the 20-foot-tall dinosaur has stood guard outside the Museum of Science and Industry since 1993. MOSI commissioned Tampa artist Terry Klaaren to build the Recyclosaurus during a the museum expansion so visitors would know the attraction remained open. He made the dinosaur out of recyclable materials and filled its belly with plastic bottles. Buried at the base is a time capsule to be opened in 2013. Last year, Klaaren gave the dino a mini-facelift to strengthen its mesh-like skin. The new skin, however, deteriorated faster than the old skin, and Klaaren is looking for materials to fix it up again. mosi.org.
Call it Disney World's kitschy cousin. This Plant City theme park has more than 150 giant foam and fiberglass dinosaurs. They don't move, but they look pretty real — and scary — amid the forest setting. Paleontologists in training ages 3 to 12 can sift through sand for buried dinosaur bones and shark teeth. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, except December and January from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Cost is $12.75 for adults, $9.75 ages 3-12 and $10.75 for ages 60 and older. Pets on leashes are free and you can bring your own lunch. Parking is free. 5145 Harvey Tew Road (Interstate 4 at Exit 17); dinoworld.net.
Tampa Bay Fossil Club
Paleontology buffs won't find any dinosaur bones, but they will find plenty of fossilized remains from prehistoric horses, zebras and elephants that roamed the state about 1.7 million years ago. The Tampa Bay Fossil Club, with 600 members, goes on fossil- hunting field trips twice a month, to rock and limestone pits near Brooksville and the Peace River in Zolfo Springs. Miners always leave with something, whether it be a 1 million-year-old horse tooth or a fossilized sand dollar. Participants must be members of the club, which costs $25 a family. The club also brings in experts to speak at its monthly meetings; and organizes Fossil Fest every March at the Florida State Fairgrounds. tampabayfossilclub.com.
Surrounded by truck rental businesses, supermarkets and gas stations, the 20-foot-tall dinosaur along 66th Street in St. Petersburg seems a bit out of place. But back in its heyday, the concrete creature known as Dino stood over the sixth hole of the Sir Goony Golf & Go-Karts. His eyes blinked and one arm moved a board up and down as golfers tried to putt past him. When the amusement park closed, Dino stayed. The putting green faded and frayed at his feet. New caretakers took over the site near 41st Avenue in 2002. They opened T-N-T Racing go-karts, which has since closed. Today, a for rent sign stands next to Dino, who's showing signs of his age. Even after 40 years, it's still worth a picture.
You don't have to travel far to see remnants of the past. The world's greatest collection of ice-age fossils was found in southeast Hillsborough County by famed paleontologist Frank Garcia. Pieces of prehistoric elephants, armadillos and giant sloths are on display at the recently expanded Paleo Preserve. Garcia dug up much of its contents at the nearby Leisey Shell Pit in Ruskin, a treasure trove of fossils 1.7 million years old. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays and by appointment for groups. For $5, kids can dig for fossils. Paleo Preserve is at the Camp Bayou Nature Preserve, 4140 24th St. SE, Ruskin; paleopreserve.org.
Contributing: tbt* files